What to say when you don't know how to answer a job interview question
1. Whatever you do, don’t lie.
Daniel Space, a human resources consultant, said that if you can’t draw from personal experience to answer a question, it’s alright to say something like, “I haven’t been placed in that situation specifically yet, but here’s how I think I would handle it.”
The biggest mistake he sees is when candidates attempt to lie instead of acknowledging what they don’t know.
2. Don’t ramble and hope for the best. If you don’t understand what they’re asking, request clarification.
Rambling is the worst mistake a job candidate can make when they don’t know how to answer, according to Mary Abbajay, president of the leadership development consultancy Careerstone Group.
"They think if they talk long enough ... people will think they are answering the questions. Don’t do that,” she said. “When you are rambling, it shows you are a poor communicator.”
Lawrese Brown, the founder of C-Track Training, a workplace education company, pointed out that not all interview questions are clearly worded and it reflects better on you to ask for clarification when you need it.
"It demonstrates a confidence and assertiveness to say, ‘Hey, can you clarify? ... Because I want to share the right insights with you, I want to share the most relevant information,’” she said.
Asking for the question to be repeated might also buy you time to think of an answer, Abbajay added.
3. Don’t give up and just say “I don’t know,” either. Advocate for the person you are.
It’s OK to admit you have not yet acquired a specific skill or faced a certain problem, said Tejal Wagadia, a recruiter for a major tech company. But don’t just say “I don’t know” when you are stumped. Saying something like, “I don’t know that yet, but I’m willing to learn that skillset,” shows your willingness to learn new things, Wagadia said.
“Redirect your answer and share how the skills you’ve gained in another capacity have prepared for the target opportunity,” said Ashley Watkins, a job search coach.